Where the destiny of Judea and Samaria is concerned, it will be Israel's tragedy if bloody-mindedness forces a schism where tolerance could have prevented it.
The warnings before Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip were apocalyptic.
The settlers of Gush Katif, it was widely predicted, being forced from their homes after decades in which the government had encouraged them to risk their lives by living in Gaza, would not go quietly. They believed that the unilateral pullout was a historic mistake; a capitulation that would lead to an escalation of Palestinian violence and terror; an act of betrayal by a prime minister, Ariel Sharon, for whom many of them had voted, and an unGodly, unJewish action - voluntarily relinquishing a portion of Jewish land.
Many soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, it was further argued, would prove incapable of carrying out the evacuation/eviction. Recent decades had seen a dramatic shift in the composition of key army units; where the young men of the secular kibbutz movement had once dominated, now the youths of modern Orthodoxy prevailed, and their loyalty to their military commanders would be superseded by their fealty to their rabbis, and to those rabbis' interpretation of Halacha. At the moment of truth, of Jew being asked to remove Jew from a home in the holy land, kippa-wearing soldiers would refuse their orders, and the army's capacity to fulfill its democratic obligation to the lawful government of Israel would be found wanting.
In the physical and emotional turmoil, ran the ominous predictions, Jew would turn violently upon Jew, much Jewish blood would be spilled, and Israeli Jewish society would be torn as never before in the history of the modern state.
The doom-mongers were mistaken.
Many of the Jewish civilian residents of Gaza certainly did not go quietly. Many did believe "disengagement" was a historic mistake, would encourage Palestinian terror, represented a betrayal by Sharon and ran counter to divine will. But their resistance largely constituted a dogged, tenacious noncooperation with the forces that had been sent to remove them from their homes and was almost entirely nonviolent.
Similarly, many of the modern Orthodox soldiers of the IDF were indeed torn. Many of their spiritual leaders fiercely opposed the pullout, regarding it as halachicly untenable. Some of those rabbinical leaders made overt their opposition to "their" soldiers participating in any aspect of the withdrawal - not just the direct removal of settlers from their homes and the dismantling of the settlements, but also the indirect protection and support of other soldiers and security personnel involved in the operation. Yet incidents of soldiers directly refusing to carry out their orders were, relatively, few and far between - a reported few dozen cases. Overall, the IDF proved thoroughly capable of implementing the decisions of its political masters.
Broadly speaking, Jew did not turn violently upon Jew. Israeli Jewish society was not ripped irrevocably apart.
But Gaza was easy.
The settlements of the Gaza Strip were the furthest from the Israeli mainstream, in several senses. Geographically, even in our tiny country, Gaza is relatively distant from Israel's main population centers, and it was the rare Israeli who had made more than the most occasional visit to the settlements there. The biblical and historic connection to Gaza pales by comparison to the centrality of Judea and Samaria. And numerically, the Gaza settlements had never flourished by comparison to some of the Jewish towns and cities of the West Bank.
Gaza, moreover, was home to well over a million Palestinians, from whom Israel had always wanted to separate. Menachem Begin would have been delighted for Anwar Sadat to take Gaza off Israel's hands almost 30 years earlier. If Sharon had concluded that demographics required Israel to relinquish responsibility for at least some of the Palestinians in order to maintain a Jewish, democratic Israel, then Gaza was clearly the place to start.
But for at least some in that Israeli mainstream, while they were acquiescent to the notion of leaving Gaza, it was also the place to finish. Any substantial withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is another story altogether - the story that is playing out now.
THE LESSON drawn from disengagement by some settler leaders, ideologues and activists was that their resistance had been too soft, that they had capitulated too gently. The four years since Israel withdrew every last Jew from Gaza have vindicated their opposition, they believe. The pullout, in their view, was indeed a disastrous miscalculation - the misguided removal of a flourishing community. Violence followed across the border. Hamas took over the Strip. Israel was forced to reinvade, enjoyed no international understanding despite the fact of its earlier unilateral departure, and will yet have to tackle a better-armed Hamas again. In that context, for them, any sense of relief that Israel had severed itself from Gaza, and has since managed to avoid being drawn permanently back into the quagmire of the Strip, is unjustified or outweighed.
So next time, or on the route to next time, some have concluded, opposition will have to be more robust.
In contrast to Gaza, furthermore, at least parts of the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria are close to the hearts of many in the Israeli mainstream, ideologically and physically. As with Gaza, most Israelis simply don't go to most of the West Bank settlements, ever. But unlike Gaza, most Israelis do sometimes visit some of the larger ones, notably those that are nearer to the pre-'67 lines. Almost all Israelis have friends and relatives who live in Judea and Samaria. Indeed, a sizable proportion of Israelis - again, in stark contrast to Gaza - live there themselves, often motivated far less by ideology than by the simple relative affordability of housing.
And Judea and Samaria, in contrast to Gaza, of course, are central to the historical narrative of Jewish Israelis - territory overflowing with biblical resonance.
West Bank compromise, in short, is a challenge of a whole different order than was posed by Gaza.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, weighing what he has called the "mix of national interests" and compromising his own support for settlement expansion, evidently saw no alternative last month but to order the suspension of new home building throughout Judea and Samaria. Despite Netanyahu's protestations to the contrary, many anticipate that after the freeze will come pressure for withdrawal. The memories of the pullout from Gaza and parts of northern Samaria are still fresh, and Netanyahu is backing a Palestinian state and facing daily reminders that the international community has no sympathy for an expanded sovereign Israel.
To date, the formal settlement leadership and its supporters have responded with the relatively mild obstruction of building inspectors dispatched to assess potential infractions and a peaceful major demonstration outside the Prime Minister's Residence.
But amid reports of heightened security around the prime minister himself, and with a disturbing rash of incidents of extremist violence - including the torching of a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf, and attacks on police personnel - battle lines are being drawn. And because the stakes are so much higher where Judea and Samaria are concerned than they were with Gaza four years ago, concerns about intra-Jewish violence are still more acute.
THE BITTER dispute between Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, head of the Har Bracha Hesder Yeshiva, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, goes to the essence of the divide. At the time of the Gaza pullout, Melamed was as intractable as he is today in his interpretation of Halacha as forbidding the dismantling of settlements - an interpretation, it should be stressed, that has both learned supporters and learned opponents. But his opposition, and that of those who shared his views, was finessed - to the ultimate benefit of all.
Innumerable earnest public and mainly private contacts facilitated a circumstance in which even some of the rabbis who were most strongly opposed to the Gaza pullout restrained their public statements, and in which the IDF hierarchy managed to shelter those soldiers most acutely conflicted from direct and even indirect involvement in the withdrawal.
Similar, if not greater wisdom is required today.
The Jerusalem Post's religious affairs correspondent, Matthew Wagner, wrote in an astute analysis on Tuesday that "as defense minister and a veteran IDF commander, Barak had to show zero toleration for insubordination. No one knows better than Barak the dangers of a breakdown in military discipline. Distinctions cannot be made between orders. Whether it is an order to charge an enemy or to dismantle a settlement, a soldier must obey."
Barak is right, of course, the IDF would collapse if it tolerated insubordination, and Israel would not last a minute without the IDF.
Wagner went on: "Melamed could not back down either. He was standing up for Halacha. As he wrote in a statement that appeared on the Arutz 7 Internet site, 'It is the obligation of a rabbi to speak his mind on Torah matters freely. In that way he represents the sacred tradition of his people.'"
Indeed, it is impossible to conceive that Melamed could betray his understanding of Halacha, his interpretation of the very code that guides his life and the lives of those who accept his rabbinical authority.
So how, then, to reconcile these profoundly conflicted positions?
Elsewhere in the same article, Wagner asserted that "Halacha might, in principle, supersede an IDF order, yet it is not necessary to ever come to a situation in which the two values directly clash."
Here, we may be on shakier ground. Modern Orthodoxy and the institutions of our democratic state have found essential common ground in building and sustaining Israel these past six decades. The issues that unite these hierarchies far, far outweigh the practical matters that divide them. Somehow, almost miraculously, we have managed to reconcile the demands of a modern, secular state with the values of the faith that both sustained our people in exile and are so central to so many in the revived Jewish homeland today.
But questions relating to the destiny of Judea and Samaria - historic Jewish land beyond the borders of sovereign Israel - test that partnership more acutely than most any other of the dilemmas inherent in the curious, wonderful, unique relationship between the secular state and the religious leadership.
And Wagner may be unjustly optimistic in claiming that we need never reach a situation in which the IDF orders directly clash with Halacha. Orders are orders, after all. And a rabbi cannot compromise his understanding of God's will.
Yet orders can be weighed and sensitively assigned, and halachic interpretation can be questioned and reexamined in the glorious Jewish tradition. Our tragedy will be if stubborn bloody-mindedness forces a cataclysmic schism where good sense and tolerance could have prevented it.
The ancient history of Jewish sovereignty in this region is a bitter saga of internal intolerance dividing and then destroying the capacity of our people to govern themselves. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Gaza pullout, the modern lesson of disengagement is that a responsible awareness of the greater good can reconcile even forces and viewpoints that may seem to be utterly conflicted. Where the destiny of Judea and Samaria is concerned, and for the sake of Israel, these are lessons that simply must be internalized.
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